Reinforcement Tower

  • Situation

    One of my 4th grade students has high functioning autism and is included in regular education most of his day. His teachers are complaining that his “talk outs” during class are becoming much too disruptive. We are looking for a positive reinforcement procedure that might work better than his current system, which is a basic star chart that he doesn’t like.

  • Summary

    Many students find reinforcement towers more motivating than a basic token system. The reinforcement tower can be teacher constructed or may be reproduced from some commercially available materials (e.g. The Tough Kid Tool Box by Jenson, Rhode and Reavis, 1994). A basic tower is divided into 8-10 segments on paper with rewards listed every few blocks with the most motivating reward at the top of the tower. The teacher or student shades in a block for each unit of time he achieves the targeted behavior of ‘no talk outs’. Replacement behaviors are defined for the student such as ‘quiet talk’ or raising hand. This process allows the student to monitor how close he is to earning the ‘big ticket’ reward. When beginning the process ensure that the student earns a reward quickly, consequently create the tower with fewer steps between each reward. As the student becomes more successful in controlling his ‘talk out’ increase the number of blocks between each reward.

    • Create the reinforcement tower (or use the template on the corresponding resource page) and divide it into 8-10 segments or blocks.
    • Using a pre-determined list of rewards (they may be a toy or game the student enjoys or a snack), write in a reward every few blocks. This will give your student something to work towards. The reward at the top of the tower should be a “big ticket” item or activity.
    • Throughout the day, shade in a block on the tower for each unit of time during which your student achieves the targeted appropriate behavior. You may choose to allow your student to shade in the blocks so he/she can monitor how close they are to receiving a reward.
    • Begin this process with rewards incorporated more frequently on the tower. As your student becomes more successful in using appropriate behaviors, you may space out the rewards by adding more blocks between them.
  • Definition

    A reinforcement tower is a unique positive reinforcement system that allows a student to track his own progress and see when he will earn rewards for displaying appropriate behavior.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 6-10, 11-13, 14-17, 18+
    • Planning Effort: Low
    • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Pre-requisites

    Menu of reinforcing items (rewards) that a student would like to earn

  • Process

    1. Meet with the student and explain the use of the new reinforcement system. Ask him to generate a “reward menu” along with you. This is a list of 5-10 things that he would like to earn for reducing his talk out behavior. You will choose from this menu when making the tower.

    2. Determine the frequency of reinforcement (how often he should get a reward) and make the reinforcement tower.

    3. Determine how you will track the positive behaviors. For example, you can check each box, shade each box or have the student do it himself when the teacher determines he should be reinforced.

    4. Prior to each class, remind him that he is working to earn his rewards and he can do this by having no talk out for each __ minute period. (this is an example only) Provide him with replacement behaviors such as raising his hand or quietly talking.

    5. When the student has completed a period of time with no “talk outs”, he can shade or check a box.

    6. When he reaches a box with a reward, he is provided that reward.

    7. Continue moving up the tower until you reach the top. When the top of tower is reached, provide the reward and start a new tower.

    8. Choose rewards that can be reasonably provided in the classroom. Some rewards may require delayed gratification such as “free computer time” at end of day or “no homework pass”. Ensure that the student can wait for a delayed reward prior to putting it on his reinforcement tower. For some students, more immediate rewards will be necessary.

  • Documents and Related Resources

    reinforcement tower (PDF)


    The Tough Kid Tool Box by William Jenson, Ginger Rhode, and H Keaton Reavis.  This book focuses on practical management and support systems for classrooms, including great reproducible tracking forms, handouts, and charts.)


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